Fairbanks & the Lonesome Light – Nothing to Escape

Erik Flores and Amelia Rose Logan’s songs as Fairbanks & the Lonesome Light are like modern dime westerns—gritty exegeses that float elegantly on pedal steel as driven, electric, rocking country. Sometimes the detached hero and the despicable outlaw in their songs are one and the same.

Looking back, principal songwriter Flores realized many of the songs on their new LP, Nothing To Escape, are about his old drinking habits. “I quit drinking a couple years ago,” he says, “right around the time we started making this record. That seems to be a big undercurrent.” While Fairbanks & the Lonesome Light’s new album isn’t overtly about sobriety, it’s often about the excesses that come along with addiction.

Flores and Logan knew each other from Austin, Texas, so when they both ended up in Los Angeles it was natural to band together and explore the scenes nested within the city. Their songwriting relationship began when they were the last two standing at parties and they’d sing to greet the sunrise. Logan complements Flores intuitively on harmony and strings. Their creations are gentle cosmic country, their harmonies vintage and organic like you’d expect to hear from Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons. While Flores writes most of the songs, he’s learned to trust Logan’s talents, and relies on her to edit them.  “She can change a word or a phrase here and there,” Flores says, “and it opens up the heavens.”

After years in L.A., Flores and Logan were starting a family and heading back to Austin when they got a call from producer Raymond Richards (Honey Honey, Local Natives) about recording Nothing To Escape. Richards’ insight and experience were a perfect match for Flores and Logan. “I have a pretty good vision of where I want things to go musically,” Flores says, “but when I do finally let go and let someone take the wheel, at least part of the way, I’m always grateful.” The album took about a week to track, thanks to Richards’ hustle. His vision turns Fairbanks’ gentle cosmic country into an experimental wall of Americana sound. “In the end,” Logan says, “he made us sound more like ourselves.”

Richards’ expertise at extracting a band’s authenticity can be heard in the psychic destination song “Pieces,” when pedal steel loops and swells bring the drama to crescendo. What begins as a trot with a snare drum and a jangling acoustic ends in a gallop of voice and electric guitar crashing like waves on the beach, Flores softly singing, “I love them, everyone / I really, really do / I break myself to pieces / and hope they love me, too.”

It’s clear that Flores and Logan were already exploring varied sonic landscapes. The title track sees Logan take the lead. In a reversal of harmonies, she sings of spiritual freedom, of having “nothing to escape this time.” “Revelation” begins to embody Flores’ struggles. It’s a parable of sweeping change, demanding, “take down them old guitars, ring in the revelation, dust off that piano bench, too,” and it relies on dynamic changes to shift gears from folk tale to country soul.
Then, right after “Alright,” a song about birth and rejuvenation, “I Strike Again” rolls out in a slow, masterful climax. Sliding along on steel guitar, the song ties the album together in an unlikely way; with the waking realizations of a blackout drunk. Flores wonders gently, in ¾ time, what went wrong, and at the same time wishes the day away. He’s taken life at rock bottom and elevated it to the album’s high point, elucidating the feeling of shame and lack of control that comes with addiction.

Flores’ characters are the best kind of bad— wherever they wallow a party is sure to spring up. Soon the drums are back to a familiar boom-clack and the band is soaring out under the “LA Sky,” drinking and fighting (and at the same time wishing to know why). Flores’ rock & roll background and the full band keep this album at a two-step pace on happy songs about sad things. “Song To My Bartender” is about giving away your paycheck to a bar that doesn’t give you back near as much as a drive through the country with a six pack and a joint.

Fairbanks & the Lonesome Light’s Nothing To Escape is an album on the magnitude of Ryan Adams’ work with The Cardinals, early Wilco, and late Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. The intimacy between Logan and Flores bears out reflective songs full of gravitas. Listening back to their tales and travails of chance and imbalance, you can hear the enchantment and desperation of L.A., and the storytelling prowess of foregone Austin legends who also found equanimity. To make an album this great, all they had to do was live through it.

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